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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 674 pages of information about The Well at the World's End.

CHAPTER 11

Now Must Ralph Ride For It

When he awoke again the sun was shining through the hazel leaves, though it was yet early; he arose and looked to his horse, and led him out of the hazel copse and stood and looked about him; and lo! a man coming slowly through the wood on Ralph’s right hand, and making as it seemed for the want-way; he saw Ralph presently, and stopped, and bent a bow which he held in his hand, and then came towards him warily, with the arrow nocked.  But Ralph went to meet him with his sword in his sheath, and leading Falcon by the rein, and the man stopped and took the shaft from the string:  he had no armour, but there was a little axe and a wood-knife in his girdle; he was clad in homespun, and looked like a carle of the country-side.  Now he greeted Ralph, and Ralph gave him the sele of the day, and saw that the new-comer was both tall and strong, dark of skin and black-haired, but of a cheerful countenance.  He spake frank and free to Ralph, and said:  “Whither away, lord, out of the woodland hall, and the dwelling of deer and strong-thieves?  I would that the deer would choose them a captain, and gather head and destroy the thieves—­and some few others with them.”

Said Ralph:  “I may scarce tell thee till I know myself.  Awhile ago I was minded for the Burg of the Four Friths; but now I am for Hampton under Scaur.”

“Yea?” said the carle, “when the Devil drives, to hell must we.”

“What meanest thou, good fellow?” said Ralph, “Is Hampton then so evil an abode?” And indeed it was in his mind that the adventure of the lady led captive bore some evil with it.

Said the carle:  “If thou wert not a stranger in these parts I need not to answer thy question; but I will answer it presently, yet not till we have eaten, for I hunger, and have in this wallet both bread and cheese, and thou art welcome to a share thereof, if thou hungerest also, as is most like, whereas thou art young and fresh coloured.”

“So it is,” said Ralph, laughing, “and I also may help to spread this table in the wilderness, since there are yet some crumbs in my wallet.  Let us sit down and fall to at once.”

“By your leave, Sir Gentleman,” said the carle, “we will go a few yards further on, where there is a woodland brook, whereof we may drink when my bottle faileth.”

“Nay, I may better that,” said Ralph, “for I have wherewithal.”  “Nevertheless,” said the carle, “we will go thither, for here is it too open for so small a company as ours, since this want-way hath an ill name, and I shall lead thee whereas we shall be somewhat out of the way of murder-carles.  So come on, if thou trusteth in me.”

Ralph yeasaid him, and they went together a furlong from the want-way into a little hollow place wherethrough ran a clear stream betwixt thick-leaved alders.  The carle led Ralph to the very lip of the water so that the bushes covered them; there they sat down and drew what they had from their wallets, and so fell to meat; and amidst of the meat the carle said: 

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